The Connections Between Mental, Physical, and Financial Clutter

This post is a guest post by Erin Doland. Erin is the chief editor and writer of one of my favorite blogs, Unclutterer, and a twice-weekly columnist for Real Simple. Take it away, Erin!

One of the changes I noticed in my life when I decided to become an unclutterer was that I stopped worrying so much about the past and the future. I cleared clutter from my life, which immediately eliminated distractions. I had properly archived my photographs and other valuable mementos, so I no longer stewed on these memories. I set up functional systems for things like online bill payments, next action lists, and Google Calendar, so I stopped having anxieties about the future. My home became a sanctuary and a place of relaxation, and my office transformed into a place conducive to work and productivity. Ultimately, my uncluttering efforts left me able to focus more on the present and be mindful in the moment.

Being mindful in the present means to be aware of this specific moment in time. You can fully see, hear, touch, understand, and experience your surroundings and your life. You can appreciate the people and things you come into contact with in every moment. Being mindful in the present is something that seems so obvious and ideal, but isn’t as simple of a task as one might imagine.

Take the next 30 seconds and give it a try. Don’t think about errands or things you need to do, clear your thoughts of memories of past times, and just focus on this moment. What surrounds you? What can you hear? Are the muscles in your jaw tense? Are your ideas focused? How is your breathing — is it short and shallow or long and robust?

Now that your 30-second experiment is finished, how did you do? Was it easier or harder than you expected? Were you able to keep your thoughts focused on the present or was your mind swirling? Could you even sit still for 30 seconds?

Are you wondering what all of this has to do with finances? It actually speaks volumes on this subject.

If you can be mindful in the present, you will stop making impulse purchases because you can consciously evaluate a product and ask yourself if you really need it. You don’t operate on automatic pilot. You can easily foil retail marketing efforts. You don’t approach shopping with a “some day I might need this” attitude. You can better evaluate products because you’re aware of their components and inspect their quality. You are a mindful consumer, which is beneficial to your wallet and your commitment to simple living.

Since you are mindful in the present, you have exactly the amount of time you need to make decisions. You can evaluate things, objects, and stuff by asking yourself: Do I need this? What will I get rid of to bring this into my home? How many hours will I have to work to pay for this? Where will this object live in my house? Does this item help me to develop the remarkable life that I want to lead? Can I fully consume this item before it expires? What will I do with this item if I don’t value it or consume it? Is this the best item to meet my needs?

Mindful consumption doesn’t mean that you completely stop consuming — you do need to eat, after all. Mindful consumption means that you stop buying clutter and things that don’t match your life. You are aware that your things don’t own you, but that you own your things.

It can require a lot of practice to stay present in the moment. It’s much simpler for me now that I’ve cleared clutter from my life to be more mindful, but I’m far from perfect. I’ll interrupt others when they’re talking because I’m thinking about where I want the conversation to go instead of what the other person is saying. I’ll walk down a city block but then have to look up at the street sign on the corner because I’ve lost track of where I am. I’ll accidentally drive to the grocery store instead of the post office. I’m finding, however, that these moments of lost focus are becoming more rare than they used to be when I was surrounded by clutter.

Clear the clutter from your life and practice being mindful in the present. Ultimately, you’ll be a more mindful consumer because of it. If you want to learnmore about being mindful in the present, you can read more about it in this well-researched study (thanks to Gretchen at The Happiness Project for bringing it to my attention).

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